Event Review: S4D4Cs 2nd European Networking Meeting “Towards a European Science Diplomacy Roadmap” in Berlin

The S4D4C event, opened by Tim Flink and Elke Dall of the S4D4C consortium at the Magnus-Haus (seat of the German Physical Society) in Berlin, contributed further to the visibility that the science diplomacy concept gained over the previous decade.

We are glad to report that around 90 people from 17 different countries joined us in interesting discussions at our event titled “2nd European Networking Meeting “Towards a European Science Diplomacy Roadmap”. Regarding professional backgrounds, the meeting was visited by a range of important stakeholders in the science diplomacy sector, such as diplomats, science counsellors, policy officers, grant managers, reseachers and the like.

In her opening speech, Sabine Kunst, President at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, highlighted the opening of science to society in general and specific initiatives such as hosting refugee scientists to preserve the world’s knowledge networks.

Frithjof Maennel, German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation in Education and Research, spoke of the historic commitment of Germany to science diplomacy – mentioning several examples such as the Minerva Agreement (1959) between the Max Planck Institute and an Israeli counterpart. Maennel understands science diplomacy as the interface between international policy and sciences. Its focus lies on the production and protection of global public goods. In the late 1960s, Germany started to appoint German Science Counsellors in its embassies – first in the U.S., in France, and in Israel. Important German structures abroad are “The German Houses for Science and Innovation” in selected cities such as New York, Sao Paulo, Moscow, New Delhi and Tokyo. Another example for science diplomacy is the “German-Russian Roadmap for Cooperation in Education, Science, Research and Innovation”: It was signed on 10th December 2018 by Anja Karliczek, German Minister for Education and Research, and Mikhail Kotjukov, Russian Minister for Science and Higher Education. With a view to the upcoming German EU council presidency, Mr. Maennel highlighted the strengthening of the European Research Area and European university networks and welcomed joint science diplomacy actions to connect and coordinate scientists and diplomats. Mr. Maennel also pointed out the need to host parallel meetings of science ministries along the G7, G8 or G20 summits.


Conversation on European Science Diplomacy

After the opening, a session moderated by Lorenzo Melchor of S4D4C brought together Minh-Hà Pham, biologist and now Vice President for International Relations at the Université Paris-Sciences-Lettres, and Miguel García-Herráiz Roobaert, from the Secretariat of State for EU Affairs in Spain.

They brought some interesting perceptions to the point. For example Mr. García-Herráiz Roobaert pointed out that a strength of diplomats – such as himself – is being “an expert of nothing and everything”. He characterises scientists as passionate and diplomats as dispassionate and pragmatic. One needs to understand human nature, build up relationships with other counterparts (and doing so around research projects is quite useful) and create win-win arrangements. He sees science diplomacy as a mind-set which bridges different cultures for reaching common interests.
Ms. Pham highlighted the difficulties of communicating science – to explain not simpler but more precisely. She mentioned the need for scientists to develop their persuasion skills and to participate in public debates. Ms. Pham also highlighted the close collaboration between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Science in France to develop science diplomacy, considering that both diplomats and scientists have different priorities and needs and the need to find a common ground for mutual understanding. She also pointed out that science diplomacy actions sometimes have a clear top-down feature, such as the “Make our Planet Great Again”-initiative created by the French President Emmanuel Macron and which was joined later by Germany. It aims to bring climate scientists from the US to Europe (following the announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by American President Donald Trump on June 1, 2017).
Mr. García-Herráiz Roobaert stated that science diplomacy works in the frame of traditional priorities and foreign policy narratives – such as the attention Spain traditionally puts on Europe, the Mediterranean Region and Latin America. Yet, global challenges like climate change gain in importance. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are now drivers for both diplomats and scientists. On the one hand, Mr. García-Herráiz Roobaert mentioned the role of the Mediterranean Network of Scientists appointed to provide science advice and policy reccommendations to both the Union for the Mediterranean and to Ministries for Foreign Affairs of different nation states. On the other hand, he referred to the establishment of undergraduate degrees (UPL), university alliances (U7+ Alliance), research projects (around water, environment, blue economy, and other SDGs) and high-level meetings on the SDGs in that regard. In general, “informed policy making” is of crucial importance, valid models to work together need to be found to bring people together in cooperative spirits.
As one of the last messages Mr. García-Herráiz Roobaert brought up Brexit. Brexit is a really negative impact for the EU narrative. The EU has been characterised by its story of cohesiveness and integration and now Brexit brings this to a crisis. However, science diplomacy in Europe can grow on the very core pillars of the EU: cooperation, collaboration, cohesiveness, integrity, values, gender empowerment, etc. These actions can be targeting specific regions through funding tools around research-collaborative programmes: EU-Russia, EU-Turkey, EU and the Mediterranean region, etc.


High Level Round Table Dialogue: How is it done? Practices of EU Science Diplomacy

In the following expanded panel discussion, S4D4C-coordinator Elke Dall spoke to representatives from different Euro-Mediterranean initiatives:

Zehra Sayers has many years of experience in setting up the transnational SESAME research infrastructure, for which, as she mentioned in Berlin, the scientific merits need to be in the forefront. But she also observed the “parallel universe” of political meetings, which are building trust based on discussions and processes. Some individuals even described to her how they overcame personal fears deriving from a political context when working together in an institution like SESAME.
Miguel García-Herráiz Roobaert shared his experience with taking action in the Union for the Mediterranean as well as with the establishment of a joint EU-Mediterranean research programme called “PRIMA”. He outlined the time, stamina and political as well as individual commitment which was needed. Clear priorities, such as climate change adaptation through innovation in the water, agriculture, and food sectors (ideally also bringing along new jobs created by these innovations), are needed to bring stakeholders to the table. It is also important that any “patronising” attitude needs to be overcome.
Jerneja Penca from the Euro-Mediterranean University highlighted her personal experience, being educated in a multi-cultural diverse international school which focused on human interaction. Personal characteristics related to trust and engagement are likewise important, and enabled her to create a refugee scientist programme as well as other science diplomacy initiatives.
Marga Gual Soler, advisor to the EU science diplomacy cluster, referred to her long history working with science diplomacy across different continents. The concept, in her opinion, now “survived the hype” but it also created confusion. In her personal and professional life, science was always building bridges – for example when she developed the AAAS Science Diplomacy Center and partnerships with US-American and Cuban scientists. The Horizon 2020 funded projects EL-CSID, S4D4C and InsSciDE form the “EU science diplomacy cluster”, which itself is a top-down impetus for inter- and transdisciplinary research needed in this area. The multitude of actors and stakeholders involved shows that a level of complexity is reached that will be needed to address the global challenges such as climate change.

The different panellists highlighted some current dynamics:

  • Science diplomacy is a concept understood in different ways by distinct countries and professionals. Science diplomacy stakeholders are more or less active depending on each country and culture, but also science diplomacy national interests and approaches greatly differ between countries
  • Member States want to keep their foreign policy agendas, and this may be a challenge in building up a EU science diplomacy strategy. Talking about European science diplomacy it is crucial to define what to keep national and what to return to the EU.
  • Global challenges are always perceived in the local and national contexts. The climate hazards need to be broken down for the national contexts and the way from an understanding of the challenge to the national science strategies to develop solutions and to the actual change is (too) long. Transnational efforts are even more difficult. Scientists might feel that the research priorities are compromised by political interests of funding authorities, and instrumentalised for economic gain or appeasement in times of conflicts. In order to avoid a rejection of the label science diplomacy, a sensitive discussion needs to take place on its use.
  • Capacity building in developing countries is crucial and is a cornerstone in science diplomacy actions. Scientific communities in developing countries that actively engage with EU scientists learn about “how to compete in research” and “how to collaborate in research consortia” (that way capacities in both research technical activities and in research management are built). But this needs to be undertaken with sensitiveness, not patronising, and being aware of issues such as data governance and ownership.

Through questions from the audience further aspects were brought to the discussion: Do science diplomacy initiatives have effects on the “ordinary citizen”? Is there a real potential to solve political problems in the region? The panel agreed that here, too, clear connections can not always be drawn: SMEs and small scale infrastructures in the region create jobs, data processing capacities are improved, and rural development is sparked. There is an increased visibility and normalisation of cooperation projects, the combination of arts and science can add another positive dimension.

Prompted by Tim Flink, who emphasised that the nature of science is being both cooperative (“love, peace and understanding” Woodstockian, as he called it) and competitive to solve problems, the panel contributed with their perceptions of different national competition interests, for instance related to economic development. As an example, the recent directive issued by the White House urging further protection of US science in a national security perspective, was highlighted. Global governance frameworks can also be challenged by irresponsible use of technologies such as CRISPR for DNA analysis (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) which is disruptive as well as cheap and readily available. As specific European features, a process- and value-orientation was highlighted in the discussion (compared to the impact-orientation of the US funding). Furthermore, the difference between Eastern and Western Europe, EU-15 and EU-13 is still very present. In this context, the capacity building objective is relevant, in particular because often the difficulties with entering the system lie in the lack of experience in navigating the bureaucratic system and not in the lack of excellent science. Pier Francesco Moretti, a physicist working at the interface between research and research policy making, highlighted the need to understand “complex systems” as an important starting point. Cooperation and competition are taking place in both science and government and complexity is also being addressed at all levels in these systems.


EU Science and Innovation Diplomacy Roadmaps based on case examples

Mitchell Young, S4D4C leader for the empirical work, introduced the poster session around selected project outputs.

The participants had the chance to discuss with the posters’ lead authors in two rounds of 25 minutes each, results were presented by:

  • “Science diplomacy and infectious diseases: between a national and a European narrative”, Ivo Šlosarčík
  • “Water diplomacy and its future in the national, regional, and European environments”, Eliška Tomalova
  • “The science and diplomacy of global challenges: food security in EU-Africa relations”, Pauline Ravinet
  • “Open science diplomacy”, Katja Mayer
  • “SESAME, an international research infrastructure in the Middle-East”, Charlotte Rungius
  • “Joint International Research programming as a case of science diplomacy”, Tim Flink
  • “Open Doors Programme: bringing scientists into science diplomacy”, Marta Bozina Beros, Marta Pulido- Salgado, Antonethe Castaneda and Nadia Meyer
  • “Building capacity for a diverse science diplomacy professionals landscape in Europe and beyond”, Maria Josten.


High Level Round Table Dialogue: How it is coordinated? Science Diplomacy experiences from EU Member States

The High-Level Stakeholder Dialogue on Coordination Aspects of Science Diplomacy started with Tim Flink introducing the speakers and their current and past positions.

Dorothea Rüland heads the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the world’s largest organisation for international students, researchers and artists exchanges. Based at the British embassy in Berlin, Frances Wood coordinates the British Science and Innovation Network (SIN) (attaché network), which operates in Europe, Turkey and Russia, and thus, at least the strategic interests of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Martina Hartl, Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF), represents the Austrian position in – and also is elected chair of – the Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation (SFIC) as part of the European Research Area Committee.
Monica Dietl advises the French Ministry of Education and Scientific Research (MESRI) as regards its new “Action Plan Europe”. Previously, she headed COST and the Brussels CNRS office.
Klaus Schuch is Scientific Director of the Center for Social Innovation (ZSI) in Vienna and is a scientific expert and advisor on many R&I-related topics, inter alia also vis-à-vis the ERAC and the Austrian EU-presidencies.

The panellists instantly agreed that coordination in international science policy-making poses a challenge, as three threads of coordination must be attuned:

  1. The interests and logics of science vis-à-vis politics – and here, organisations enjoy different degrees of autonomy
  2. The interinstitutional arrangement between people/organisations that meet on the international level
  3. The question of how these foreign encounters must be attuned with domestic institutional settings

Frances Wood, for example, reported that while FCO’s and BEIS’ interests might be well funnelled into strategic planning of the SINners abroad, the coordination with the UK research councils is challenging, as the latter insist on their autonomy. Ms. Rüland agreed that for her organisation, it is challenging to attune the foreign policy interests of one of her major shareholders and funders (the German Foreign Office) and the strong voice of DAAD’s main constituents, i.e. German universities. With regard to the EU, Ms. Hartl concluded that SFIC is an interesting body, as national members are supposed to represent the voice of a country, while domestic science policy landscapes are variegated. These impressions were shared by Mr. Schuch and Ms. Dietl. The latter three put an emphasis on the question whether and how genuine European coordination mechanisms are working or are more needed in terms of science diplomacy. While SFIC or “older” bottom-up schemes, such as the ERA-Nets and multilateral policy dialogues supported by INCO-Nets, have been interesting policy instruments, the classical principles of EU-subsidiarity cannot be circumnavigated. On the contrary: With rising nationalism in Europe, according to Mr. Schuch, trans- and supranational coordination becomes ever more tedious. This tendency exacerbates due to the fact that the afore-mentioned soft-governance instruments are not as favoured by the Commission anymore as they used to be.

Another central aspect, lively discussed by Ms. Rüland, is the question whether the concept of science diplomacy would help actors to coordinate international activities. Her critique is that European stakeholders (and researchers) have yet been unable to find a different narrative to the US “soft power” approach of science diplomacy that nowadays gets also instrumentalised by new powerful and autocratic regimes, such as China and Russia. Instead, actors of the European discourse on science diplomacy cannot even decide if they implicitly do science diplomacy while talking about international science policy or vice-versa: if they talk about science diplomacy but actually just engage in international science policymaking, none of whose aspects should be treated as trivial things. Not least, Ms. Rüland warned against always using science diplomacy in a normatively positive sense. While one might have good intentions to do so, other actors might interpret the explicit mentioning as a threat.

Input from the audience agreed that it is far from clear whether using the concept of science diplomacy in an open rhetorical way does help actors clarify their coordinative actions. In addition, finding an answer as to what instrument or mechanism can help clarify the role of the EU and national actors seems to be needed. And thirdly, the role of new institutional actors, next to foreign and research ministries, must be acknowledged, but here again, all depends on how they get integrated into a complex field of actors.


Closing Keynotes on General Policy Context

Closing words from Halina Walasek, Policy Officer on Science Diplomacy in the European Commission’s Directorate General on Research and Innovation, Directorate for International Cooperation, alerted the audience to the different points where the Treaty on the European Union highlights peace, security, progress through the European values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law etc. She also referred to the Sibiu Declaration of Heads of States, Leaders Agenda, and Ursula von der Leyen’s “agenda for Europe” which strives for a strong Europe and a European Green Deal. Finally, she highlighted the three pillars excellence, honesty and citizen-driven approach as pillars of scientific advice to European policy-making.

Diana Senczyszyn, European Neighbourhood Policy Officer, European External Action Service, in her role represents the EU’s diplomatic service coordinating different directorates and agencies. In her particular responsibility, partnerships with the European Neighbourhood are framed by agreements identifying priorities which often include science for health, development or environment. Careful follow-ups to the priorities and action points identified in regular policy dialogue meetings are being organised. While there is no explicit strategy on science diplomacy, there is a daily practice throughout the EU delegations abroad who are very well aware that science supports addressing global challenges and also political blockages. The 2016 Global Strategy for Foreign Security Policy also referenced the value of science for foreign policy as a novel approach to diplomacy. The EEAS has success stories related to the Cultural strategy and concrete examples of scientific cooperation agreements renewed again and again between Russia and Europe at times when there was little or no political dialogue otherwise.


The conference was concluded with a social and networking part during an evening reception in the Museum für Kommunikation in Berlin.

More photos can be found in our event gallery.

(Notes are based on records taken by Claire Mays (InsSciDE), Tim Flink, Elke Dall, Maria Josten, and Lorenzo Melchor and contributions of participants on Twitter.)


S4D4C Team

Posted by S4D4C Team